We ll Fight On, Say Skye Bridge Protesters After Ruling

The Government last night urged all law-abiding citizens to pay Skye Bridge tolls after the Crown won its appeal. Three judges ruled at the High Court in Edinburgh that it IS a criminal offence for drivers not to pay the extortionate charges.

But SKAT vowed to fight on and immediately opened a new avenue of attack by demanding to see a certificate authorising Miller Civil Engineering Ltd to collect tolls. At the Appeal Court yesterday, three Lords rejected Sheriff Fraser's decision of July 10 that the tolls legislation was flawed because it did not specify who was to pay the toll of 5.40. In an 11-page judgement, the court ruled the liability was on the person at the toll seeking to use the crossing for the vehicle.

Immediately, the Skye Bridge Company said it would refuse passage to anyone refusing to pay the toll and police said all offenders would be reported to the Procurator Fiscal. Ministers welcomed the findings of the appeal judges. "We expect that all law-abiding citizens using the bridge will now pay the tolls." said a spokesman for the Scottish Office. "The package of significant reductions announced by the Secretary of State on July 4 will be implemented as soon as is practicable." These will see the cost of a single car crossing cut by 50% to 1.25 when a book of tickets is bought.

WHEN this will come into effect, however, has NOT been announced. It could possibly not happen until the start of next year. It also does not stop occasional users, or tourists from paying the extortionate 5.40 each way. They also forgot to mention the fact that you have to buy 20 tickets at one time.

SKAT have responded by claiming the Skye Bridge Company are collecting tolls illegally because it did not have a certificate signed by the Scottish Secretary. Robbie the Pict, head of SKAT's legal committee, said: "We're opening a new wound. We asked the company to produce proof of their authority to collect tolls, and they were unable to do so. The bridge manager assured us he would forward our request to Skye Bridge Ltd as quickly as possible, but I don't think we'll see it, because I don t believe they have such a certificate."

Robbie described the Law Lords decision to uphold the Crown's appeal as "just a minor hiccup - a mere bagatelle" . He said "Their lordships appear to have invented new legislation to get the Crown out of trouble. I thought that was the prerogative of Parliament. However, we have several other avenues to explore and the heavier arguments are yet to come."

Ross, Skye and Inverness West MP Charles Kennedy said last night he would be seeking an early meeting with the Lord Advocate now that the legal uncertainty had been clarified. He will ask what action is to be taken against people who made their protest between Sheriff Fraser's ruling and the outcome of yesterday's appeal. "I also want to see the timetable for the changes concerning price reductions promised by the Scottish Office. It may yet be towards the end of the calendar year before these are implemented."

Highland Councillor John Farquhar Munro pledged the authority would continue to campaign for the abolition of the tolls despite yesterday s ruling. "Anything less would be a betrayal and any suggestions by the Scottish Office that increases in tolls may be contemplated to claw back the non-payment costs would not be tolerated" , he said.

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Copyright © Ray Shields, 1997.

Most recent revision, 8 August 1997.